Chris Eagles misses a chance, there have been over 100 of these in 2012-2013. - Matthew Lewis
Bolton are up to five first team strikers, plus a youngster who recently returned from a very successful loan stint. Where are they all going to play? More importantly, which of them deserve to play?
Bolton create a fair amount of chances, and take a lot of shots. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them end up off-target. A big part of this is Chris Eagles. He has seven goals, which is nice for a winger, but none of them have come recently, and the former Manchester United youngster has taken a staggering 108 shots, with only 58 of them finishing on-target. After Eagles, the second most prolific shot-taker on the Trotters is Kevin Davies, with 32. That's right, Chris Eagles has taken 76 more shots than any of his teammates. Eagles has also racked up 12 assists, although with all those shots we may need MI6 to find out when he found the time to pass the ball.
Given the amount of opportunities they have been given, it is no huge surprise that none of Bolton's many forwards have been bulging the net on a regular basis. To give these numbers some context, let's look at Dougie Freedman's former club, Crystal Palace. Wilfed Zaha has five goals, two less than Eagles. Zaha has taken 42 shots this season. His teammate, Glenn Murray, has scored a staggering 22 goals this season on 41 shots. Andre Moritz also has five goals this season, a result of his 21 shots taken.
Just to recap, those three players, who have appeared in just about every Palace match this season, have combined for 104 shots, four less than Chris Eagles. So while we look at the Bolton strike force, let us keep in mind, that while they haven't scored many goals, their chances have been limited by circumstances beyond their control. Perhaps the increased playing time of playmaker Stu Holden and pass-minded Josh Vela will lead to more opportunities for these forwards, but the truth is, something like this has to be dealt with by the manager. Dougie Freedman knows these numbers, and he knows that efficiency is an important quality of every successful football club.
On to the strikers, listed in order from least to most opportunities so far this season:
Tom Eaves just turned 21 years old last week, and is yet to make an appearance for Bolton Wanderers. He has only recently returned from a very successful loan spell at League 2 side Bristol Rovers. Eaves appeared in 17 matches for Rovers, starting every one. He scored seven goals and created three more, while taking 34 shots, 19 of them on-target. Rovers would have preferred to keep the youngster, and at his age and experience level he certainly needs time on the pitch. We have to assume that Freedman has not brought him back to the Reebok so he can play in the reserves. That said, I just don't see where the playing time is going to come from. Eaves is cup-tied, so he won't feature against Everton, and there seem to be five forwards ahead of him in the queue for league matches. Unless Dougie sees the youngster as a winger, there don't look to be any opportunities available for him.
Marvin Sordell has started five matches and made seven substitute appearances for Bolton Wanderers this season. Five of those came in Bolton's first five matches. Three have come in Bolton's last four matches. It's worth noting that Sordell is still only 21 years old, and it is certainly understandable that such inconsistent playing time could lead to inconsistent play. Sordell has taken only ten shots in all competitions, and managed to score four goals. His last few games have been his best in a Bolton shirt, and if I had to guess, I would say he will spend a lot of time on the pitch in the coming weeks.
When Arsenal loan Bolton a player, people tend to expect big things. We'll call it the Jack Wilshere effect. Unfortunately, 19-year-old Benik Afobe's impact has been more similar to that of Ryo Miyaichi. An occasional moment of brilliance mixed in with a whole lot of indifferent play. Afobe has started seven matches in all, while making a further 15 substitute appearances. This tells us one of two things. If you are an optimist, it tells you that both Owen Coyle and Dougie Freedman think Afobe has the skills needed to change a match. If you are a pessimist, it tells you that Arsenal inserted an appearances clause in the loan deal, and Bolton have to pay a hefty fee if Afobe does not play in a certain number of games. The youngster has taken 11 shots and scored three goals. Ten of those 11 have been on target, though most of those have been soft and directly at the keeper. He was very poor early in the season, but has put in some better performances lately. Given the sale of Martin Petrov, Afobe could see more time on the wing, but I think he is the most likely to suffer a reduction in playing time at the expense of another new signing, whom we will discuss below.
A back injury forced David Ngog to miss most of Bolton's preseason training. It is very difficult to recover from something like that. Ngog's fitness has not been right all season, and despite several impressive performances (especially coming off the bench) niggling little injuries have prevented him from getting into a good run of form. He has appeared in 18 matches for Wanderers this season, starting 12. Of his 29 shots, 15 have been on target, leading to four goals. That's not great, but it's not terrible. Of all the players on this list, the Frenchman is the one who needs to be more aggressive in front of goal. The hold-up play is nice, and he does it well, but he is a striker, and he needs to try to score more. As for how much he will feature going forward, if Ngog is fit he should start.
Barnsley just recently sold 27-year-old striker Craig Davies to Bolton. This move is a bit of a puzzler, because as you can see in this post, Bolton have plenty of forwards, almost all of them younger than Davies, and several of them with better scoring records. He started 21 matches for Barnsley, and came off the bench once. In that time he managed 58 shots, 35 of them on target. This resulted in 8 goals, 4 of them in an inexplicable 19 minutes against Birmingham. The Welsh international is a big lad, but not huge, nor is he particularly fast. He doesn't create chances for others, in fact, he is comically inept at bringing his teammates into play. Davies does not have an assist this season. In his career, which spans over 300 matches, he has a grand total of 12 assists. That is as many as Chris Eagles, with his absurd 108 shots on goal, has this season alone. To sum up, in case I have been obtuse, I think Davies was clearly a waste of money, and on the occasions Dougie Freedman shoehorns him into the team ahead of better players, he will be a waste of space.
That leaves us with Super Kevin Davies, who is always a bit difficult to write about. He is the club captain, a club legend, and our only remaining link to the glory years of the mid-aughts under Sam Allardyce. SKD has started 25 matches this season, and come on as a sub in a further five. He has stumbled into six goals, and created another six for his teammates. Unfortunately, he hasn't scored a goal in ten matches, and has committed 61 fouls, a staggering 20 more than he has won. He still has his place, and can still contribute in a limited role. Whether the player, or his manager, accept that is a matter for debate. When Freedman first arrived at the Reebok, he instituted a rotation policy amongst the strikers. Big Kev still started a majority of the matches, but he wasn't playing 90 minutes twice a week. Given this increased rest, Davies' 35-year-old body had a bit of a renaissance, although it was short-lived. For some reason, Dougie gave up on this, and has recycled the Megson philosophy of running the man into the ground.
In short, all of these men have something to contribute to the Wanderers cause this season. How much each of them contributes, we will have to wait and see. Dougie Freedman has put himself in a position where he is spoilt for choice. And he is running out of time to make the right one.